2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Special Edition Road Test and Review +VIDEO
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Special Edition
If it seems like every second "car" I drive is a crossover, that just reflects the popularity of that genre. Crossovers have pushed the once-dominant traditional body-on-frame truck SUV to marginal status in the mass market. But there are some people who actually want to, or need to, get dirty, seriously dirty, and in style and comfort, and for them Toyota has the FJ Cruiser.
After 2010's engine upgrade, which saw the 4.0-liter V6 go from 239 to 260 horsepower, on regular instead of premium unleaded, 2011 sees more interesting developments. Rear passenger access -- as always via small rear-hinged doors that can only open when the front door is opened -- has been improved as the front passenger seat folds further forward. Folding rear headrests increase rear visibility, and the heater is stronger. The new standard audio system has AM, FM, and XM radio, plays regular audio, MP3, and WMA CDs, and has a jack, USB port, and iPod connectivity. Hands-free phone and music streaming capability is via Bluetooth®.
And then there's the Trail Teams Special Edition Package. With Army Green exterior paint -- including the roof, which is otherwise white -- and interior fabric plus black bumpers, door handles, and outside mirrors with illuminated markers, it looks like just the thing to go after Japan's other Big Green Guy. Reinforcing its off-road demeanor, an electronically-controlled locking rear differential and A-TRAC active traction control improve performance in slippery situations. A backup camera, with monitor integrated into the rearview mirror, improves rear visibility. It may look military, but the 11-speaker JBL audio system is definitely not something found in a military vehicle.
A Trail Teams FJ Cruiser has been my test vehicle for the past week. It's been amusing, and even a little nostalgic. Coming right after a similarly-sized upscale crossover, the FJ highlighted the differences between crossover and real SUV -- it feels like a truck because it is a truck, proudly. Which is not to say that it's uncomfortable or unrefined, far from that. It's a truck with identifiable style and character, with no lack of appeal as I see plenty of examples every day. It's more likely to be bought by young or young-at-heart and outdoors-oriented singles and couples than urban families, so the compromises in access because of the 9.6 inches of ground clearance won't be a problem. It's comfortable and maneuverable, handles bad pavement with ease, and is entertaining to drive.
Watch the FJ Cruiser promo video
APPEARANCE: Testosterone spoken here… The FJ Cruiser's high beltline, low roof, near-vertical windshield, wide window pillars, sloping rear roofline, and external, full-size spare tire already give it the look of a military vehicle; the Army Green and flat black color scheme and black wheels of the Trail Teams Special Edition further reinforces, in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. The FJ's retro-inspired styling makes it hard to judge its size if nothing of known size is nearby. It can look smaller than it actually is in photos, yet seems huge in person - until measured.
COMFORT: Yes, the exterior styling causes compromises in visibility and accessibility compared to a 4Runner. But the backup camera, with monitor on the rear-view mirror, that is part of the Trail Teams package is a major help when backing, and the tall, narrow outside mirrors offer a good view to the sides. Step-in is high, no surprise considering the clearance and body-on-frame construction, but the seat cushion height should make step-in easy for most people over 5-4 or so. Rear seat access, as in many extended-cab pickups, is by rear-hinged doors that can only open after the front door is open. It's not as easy as with regular doors, but that's part of the FJ's character. Interior styling is as retro-modern as the exterior, but with no compromise to function. Black-on-white instruments are easily visible, and the buttons and knobs for most center stack controls are large and easy to use. The audio system buttons are smaller, but reasonable. Front seat comfort is good, with an upright, chair-like seating position. There's a second lever next to the shifter on the console. It's the 4WD control lever. No this is not a crossover! The rear seat has good headroom but less legroom. While wide enough for three, it's best for two, preferably short, people. The cushions flip and the back folds 60/40 for cargo use. The side-hinged tailgate makes cargo access easier than a usual top-hinged tailgate.
SAFETY: Toyota's Star Safety System incorporates Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), traction control, antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and Smart Stop technology. Brakes are large, strong four-wheel discs. Front seats get the Advanced Airbag System, active headrests, and seat-mounted side airbags. Full-length roll-sensing side curtain airbags, side-impact door beams, LATCH child-seat mounts, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and an engine immobilizer are also standard equipment in the FJ Cruiser.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Now that the SUV fad has faded and people who wanted a truck look but really wanted a car can get a crossover like a Highlander, those who want a truck and understand that it will be a truck can get an honest truck. Like an FJ Cruiser. It sits high because it has excellent ground clearance, the body sits on top of the frame, and suspension is by independent double wishbones in front and a well-located solid axle with coil springs in the rear. It's tuned moderately softly, for offroad capability, so there is plenty of body roll and pitch on the road, especially on a twisty road. No surprise, not with 8.7 inches of travel at the front and 9.1 at the rear. Height exacerbates the perception of that. The TT package's Bilstein shocks provide very good damping. And the P265/70R17 tires are noticeable in their shock-absorption help, but with sidewalls like that quick turn-in is not going to happen. It's an offroad-ready truck so it's set up like an offroad-ready truck. I live nowhere near any off-road driving area (although the local "pavement" makes many a logging road seem smooth and well-maintained…) so had no opportunity to drive this one in the dirt. I have done some serious technical off-road driving in an earlier version, and it worked very well. Steel skid plates underneath anything that needs protection are part of the FJ's character. They can protect against road debris as much as rocks and stumps in the dirt.
PERFORMANCE: There never was a power shortage with the FJ Cruiser's 4.0-liter V6, but last year's changes have upped horsepower from 239 (at 5200 rpm) to 260 (at 5600), while torque decreases slightly, from 278 lb-ft (at 3700 rpm) to 271 (at 4400). The torque decrease is not noticeable, and extra horsepower helps when quick acceleration is needed. More importantly, the engine is now tuned to run best on regular unleaded instead of premium. Aluminum alloy construction keeps engine weight down, and being a Toyota powerplant, it has dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and the VVT-i variable cam phasing system on all camshafts. It's quiet and refined in operation. While 4x4s can be had with a six-speed manual, all that I've driven had had the five-speed automatic. Manual 4x4s have the same full-time dual-range transfer case as is found in the 4Runner, while automatics have a part-time dual-range system that is still very capable off road. Both my test vehicle and the example I drove off-road were automatics, and the automatic worked very well in both everyday and technical off-road driving. The A-TRAC enhanced traction control system and the locking rear differential, optional on most versions, are part of the Trail Team package and contribute to the FJ Cruiser's off-road ability. The FJ Cruiser can tow up to 5,000 lbs.
CONCLUSIONS: There are some interesting updates to the Toyota FJ Cruiser for 2011.
2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Base Price $ 26,880 Price As Tested $ 31,775 Engine Type DOHC aluminum alloy 24-valve V6 with dual VVT-i variable cam phasing Engine Size 4.0 liters / 241 cu. in. Horsepower 260 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 271 @ 4400 rpm Transmission 5-speed automatic (opt) Wheelbase / Length 105.9 in. / 183.9 in. Curb Weight 4295 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.5 Fuel Capacity 19 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P265/70R17 113S Bridgestone Dueler H/T Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / solid axle with 4-link location, coil springs Ground Clearance 9.6 inches Drivetrain longitudinal front engine, part-time dual-range 4-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 21 / 17 0 to 60 mph 7.2 sec Towing Capacity 5,000 lbs. OPTIONS AND CHARGES Upgrade Package 3 (Trail Teams Special Edition Package) Army Green exterior color, including roof top; black bumpers, grille, door handles, power outside mirrors with illuminated markers; electronically-controlled locking rear differential; active traction control (A-TRAC), remote keyless entry, Army Green interior door trim and fabric seat inserts; cruise control; auto-dimming rearview mirror with integrated backup camera monitor; JBL 11-speaker (with subwoofer) audio system; leather-trimmed steering wheel; daytime running lights; rear window wiper, rear privacy glass $ 3,650 Towing Hitch And Wiring Harness $ 349 All-Weather Cargo Mat $ 86 Delivery And Handling Fee $ 810
2011 Toyota FJ Crusier Specs, Comparisons and Prices - Toyota Buyers Guide